Hope for the Holidays: Local agencies playing Santa for families who need a little extra right now

The holidays seasn traditionally calls for gathering with loved ones, buying presents, and enjoying special treats. For many, though, those traditions are financially out of reach. Some find themselves choosing between the essentials and celebrations.

Fortunately, the Great Lakes Bay Region has resources ready to help those struggling this holiday season.

Nicole Luczak, President and CEO of United Way of Bay County, has noticed a substantial increase in need this year.

“This entire year, we’ve seen the requests coming into United Way triple from what they usually do, especially with utilities and housing.” 

Many people are feeling the pinch this year due to COVID-19 relief funds ending.

“During the pandemic, there was a lot of extra assistance,” says Luczak. “When all of that ended and inflation happened, it really caused an increase in need.”

The combination of inflation and the termination of government relief funds has left numerous families stranded in the gaps. These families, unable to qualify for government assistance programs, are still grappling with the challenge of paying bills and putting food on the table.

In such circumstances, Luczak encourages individuals to reach out to 211 Northeast Michigan for support.

The 211 Northeast Michigan agency is connected to a national resource center that helps people connect people to the resources they need. To connect, simply dial 211 on your phone. Once a call agent answers, he or she will ask for your zip code and connect you with the nearest resources available.

A phone call isn’t the only way to reach 211. You also can contact 211 through a website via live chat as well as the agency’s Facebook page. For help by text, text your zip code to TXT-211 or 898-211.

Agents are available 24 hours a day seven days a week, ready to help and direct those in need to the proper resources.

“We always point people to 211,” says Luczak. “That’s a program we invest in, they have live, up-to-date resource information for anything from Christmas programs to utility and housing assistance, and childcare, any resources you could need.”

Shirley Southworth, Database Manager for 211 Northeast Michigan, refers to the 211 website as a living document with an ever-evolving database of services.

Southworth is responsible for keeping the website up-to-date and ensuring the resources listed are still active and accurate.

As the demand rises, organizations are finding it challenging to manage.

“We’ve heard from faith-based and community-based organizations that they are struggling to keep up with the need,” says Southworth. “Utilities and rent payment assistance are the dire needs right now.”

Southworth emphasizes the importance of reaching out to 211 sooner rather than later to explore available options.

Once your needs are understood, 211 provides comprehensive assistance throughout the application process, often guiding individuals toward the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

Safe Harbor Community Center, located on Bay City's West Side, is a food pantry offering food boxes to individuals and families. (Photo courtesy of Safe Harbor Community Center)Beyond that, 211 extends its support to those who may not qualify for food assistance or other MDHHS programs but are still struggling with the challenge of paying rent.

“We have different things people are unaware of,” says Southworth. “We have quarterly food giveaways, and mobile food pantries we post on our Facebook.

211 also offers holiday help to aid in the financial burden the season can bring.

Other way places offering help this holiday season include:
  • Toys for Tots: Purchase and donate a toy to a child in need. Toy donations are accepted until Fri., Dec. 8. The application deadline to receive toys was earlier this week. Two Bay City locations where you can donate toys are the main Toys for Tots office at 702 South Euclid Ave. and the United Way of Bay County building at 900 Washington Ave. For more information visit United Way of Bay County’s website.
  • United Way of Bay County Food Distribution: United Way is providing a semi-load of food for distribution to families who need extra assistance. The distribution will take place at Auburn City Park, 435 South Auburn Road, on Thurs., Dec. 7. Distribution will begin at 10 am and will last until supplies are gone. For more information visit United Way of Bay County’s Facebook page.
  • Operation Santa: Write a letter to Santa and send it to 1234 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888 through the US Postal Service, and receive gifts from Santa. The deadline to write a letter is Mon., Dec. 11. The final day to adopt a letter is Mon., Dec. 18. For more information visit the USPS website.
  • The Salvation Army: Among the daily ways the Salvation Army helps the community they add special holiday programs this time of year. The Salvation Army has an Angel Tree with tags listing gifts for a family in need. People may take a tag off the tree and purchase gifts for the family from either of the two Salvation Army locations in Bay City ­– 401 10th St. or 601 N. Euclid Ave. For more information about the Angel Tree, head to their Facebook page where you can find all the events and programs the Salvation Army has to offer.
  • Food of Faith serves hot meals to the community by rotating to different churches and sites to serve the meals, reaching more of the community. For more information or to find the list of dates and locations, visit Trinity Episcopal Church’s website or call (989) 892-5813.
  • Safe Harbor Community Center is located in the Banks' area at 706 Joseph St. Safe Harbor is a food pantry offering food boxes to individuals and families. For more information, visit their Facebook page or call (989) 894-1189.
  • Free Holiday Fun: Nate and Mary Ida Doan Santa House, located at 1001 John F Kennedy Drive, is a fun, free, holiday event the whole family can enjoy. Visit Santa at his house and see how the jolly man lives. For more information visit the Santa House on Facebook.

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Read more articles by Sarah Sexton.

Sarah Sexton moved to Bay City from Dallas, TX in 2005. After graduating from John Glenn High School in 2007, Sarah earned her BA from Michigan State          University in Social Science with a focus on the Black American Freedom Struggle. Sarah traveled extensively throughout her early 20s and eventually made her way back to Bay City in 2018 to be closer to family. Sarah began pursuing her passion for writing in 2020 and has worked with local magazines and online media sources as well as other freelancers. When Sarah is not writing or brushing up on her photography skills, she can be found bopping around Downtown Bay City, enjoying the nightlife and activities the city offers.